Film Review: Clouds Of Sils Maria

It’s fair to say that when two of my favourite actresses (Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche) come together to make a film I am always going to be interested, and it’s a fairly safe bet that whether followed by good, bad or different reviews I will watch it regardless.

So from the moment I first saw the trailer and realised that was exactly what has happened I have been counting down the days until release of Clouds of Sils Maria. Patiently waiting, not caring if Mark Kermode states it has “career best performances” or Robbie Collins declares it “bewitching”, because to me this was like the moment as a child when you discover your favourite foods worked better combined; it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or knows, this is your moment to be happy, regardless.

They say never meet your heroes, and that nothing tastes as good as we remember. And sadly, Clouds Of Sils Maria is slightly proof in point. The film is interesting, and it has a lot to say. Taking a deep and reflective look at aging, relationship, love, work, but it does this by layering deeper and deeper monologues on top of each other. And this creates a film that feels very heavy, forcing you to focus hard on each individual element. It creates a story that isn’t straight forward to follow, because while visually you can see it playing out, the exact meaning is often available for interpretation. You’re not told how to feel, but rather suggested various options and allowed to pick your own.

Because the film is dialogue heavy, lacking in any real visual stimulation, it is a hard film to really connect with or become engrossed in. I never felt like I was truly enclosed into it’s world. I understand it’s arguments and it’s debate but I never felt truly involved. While I was never bored by it, my mind would easily wander: shopping lists, other movies, my car’s punctured tyre all popping into my mind breaking the audible onslaught of the film.

Julitte Binoche & Kristen Stewart - Clouds Of Sils Maria

Even though it failed to grip me, to demand my constant attention, I have to say the performances of Stewart and Binoche are outstanding. And I’m not just saying that as a fan. Kristen Stewart was for me by far the better of the two, she nails her performance from start to finish and you believe in her totally. She manages to shake off the slight “Hollywood A-Lister” vibe that clouded On The Road, and comes across as real, intriguing and genuine. You actually forget who she is and just see her character, sharing in her pain, her thoughts and her passions.

Juliette Binoche is equally forgetful as the A-Lister she is, slipping into character with a humble believability, but sadly unlike Stewart, I found her peaking and toughing at times. She’d nail parts with exquisite conviction, especially the maternal qualities of the relationship she shares with Stewart, but then lose her way by slightly looking out of love and not fully committed to a scene or an idea she was trying to portray. It’s more a minor flaw in the perfection that sounds her than a constant complaint, but there are just moments where she feels like an actress in a role rather than a character sharing their life.

Chloe Grace Moretz - Clouds Of Sils Maria

However, when it comes to the cast I have one almost constant complaint. Chloë Grace Moretz. Firstly, I felt her character was completely out of tone with the rest of the film. The narrative up to her arrival has a seriousness that commends respect, where as the role Moretz is given just feels fractured and at odds with everything and her arrival highlights this, in a way that makes you feel they didn’t know how to balance her character in the story. And secondly, I just feel that as a person I can’t relax with the way she has aged. It sounds bizarre but she has grown up “in body” but not “in face”. To look at her I still see the face of that innocent little girl from Kick Ass and Let Me In, but now it’s sat upon a grown up body and it’s an image that doesn’t compute in my mind. I can’t accept she’s 18 and not 8.

I also found the sound track bizarrely irritating as well. As a very dialogue heavy film it really isn’t given much to do, but when it is used it’s bought in as an attempt to add emotion to shots of sweeping vistas but instead just ends up feeling aggressive and loud and noticeably too much. Finally though, my biggest complain is the climatic resolution to the relationship between Stewart and Binoche. It’s such a confusing event that is then unconvincing ignored and totally unexplained, that is destroys the ending of the film because I ended up simply wondering what happened, what it meant and whether I had completely misread and misinterpreted the entire film and both characters. It  left me watching the last leg of the film desperately trying to think of answers to new unwanted questions and ideas than really taking in what’s closing arguments. It destroyed the movie and wasn’t necessary.

Don’t get me wrong though, it’s a good film, but it’s not without flaws. It’s a film making a commentary, wanting to debate, rather than a simple story and so, will never fall into main stream cinema because it asks more of its audience than it gives in return. It’s worth watching for the performances alone, but it’s a tough watch, and a film that will be hard to return to. Seen, enjoyed and then avoided. I think it’ll age into obscurity.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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